Photo by MATT SHAVER
Khruangbin, an acclaimed coven of Houston psychedelic soul gurus, have been amassing an impressive following since their Thai-flavored 2015 debut LP, The Universe Smiles Upon You. “Khruangbin” is Thai for “aeroplane,” literally translating to “flying engine.” They are currently on tour in support of their latest album, Con Todo El Mundo (2018), which draws upon Spanish and Middle-Eastern influences. They have been consistently jamming sold-out shows and last night’s concert at Union Transfer was no exception.
The group — which features Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums — played an introductory jam and then Speer gave his salutations to the Philly audience. The set was packed with pretty much everything a Khruangbin fan would want to hear, like “White Gloves” and “Two Fish and an Elephant,” but also had some tasty surprises: an instrumental medley of classics like “The Next Episode” (Dr. Dré), “Electric Relaxation” (A Tribe Called Quest), “The Sweetest Taboo” (Sade), “It Was A Good Day” (Ice Cube), and “Summer Madness” (Kool & The Gang); and that’s just to keep the list brief. They also kicked off the holiday season in style with a soothing cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here,” red and green stage lights beaming through the fog.
Their performance was a consistent display of flawless musical prowess, and the music cast a spell that forced the crowd to dance. I was particularly flabbergasted by how well-crafted their sound is, how balanced the mix is. Speer’s tone is bright, sparkly, and soaked in reverb; he keeps his Crybaby Wah all the way up, which sucks out most of his low-end. It keeps his twangy licks from intruding down into Lee’s territory of rich, full bass grooves that rival those of Tina Weymouth. The two are perfect compliments of each other, both in the mix and in their low-key theatrics. They even play matching Fender Silverface amplifiers for the fashion statement of it (bonus: aside from looking the part, the amps sound marvelous too).
DJ’s drumming is minimalistic, yet sautéed with soulful variations and fills. His facial expression last night was usually that of boredom as his arms moved as if they were separate sentient entities. However, the music wouldn’t have been right without him, and he certainly fits the band. He and Speer have been playing together since 2004, when they met in a church gospel band. DJ’s talents didn’t stop at drumming last night, as he played a solo piece on an upright piano to begin the encore set. DJ was then joined by Lee and Speer as he returned to his kit, marking the loudest part of the show: the crowd’s cheer. There was no hiding it, Union Transfer’s crowd was rendered shamelessly infatuated with Khruangbin last night. — KYLE WEINSTEIN